Watch this woman dance in the face of catastrophe. You will be inspired. I was.

by Stephen Sachs

Last Saturday, I was taking a walk with my wife and son around the Hollywood Reservoir. Daily walks have become our morning routine to break out of our home isolation. We normally stroll through our neighborhood or stride the perimeter of a nearby park. Saturday, to break the monotony, we chose to walk the 3.3 miles around the Hollywood Reservoir. There, we encountered an unforgettable woman.

I spotted her as we circled Lake Hollywood. Her zeal caught my eye. She strode ahead of us, a spring in her step. Despite the surrounding catastrophe, the loneliness of physical distancing, she walked with a kind of energized elan. Spirit in her step.

Suddenly – she burst into dance. A spontaneous, improvised ballet. Right there. On the public path. She leaped into the air, arms twirling, legs flicking, an impulsive pirouette. She sashayed down the street, spinning, bounding silently to graceful music only she could hear.

I grabbed my iPhone and taped her. You can see my video above.

This stranger, this Lake Hollywood dancer, inspires me. She is the power of art. Like a flower pushing its way through cement, she is the Fountain Theatre, the Los Angeles theatre community, finding a way, against the odds, to urge itself upward toward the sun, to bloom once again.

In the midst of emergency, we keep dancing. Not to be trivial or irresponsible.  Not to fiddle like Nero as Rome burned. To dance in the face of catastrophe as an act of defiance, of rebellion. Driving forward the Life force. A refusal to be defeated. Despair will not win. Art finds a way.

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre

Fountain Theatre honored by LADCC with Margaret Harford Award for excellence in theatre

LADCC FTIn recognition of providing outstanding productions of meaningful new plays and first-class performances spanning three decades, The Fountain Theatre has been honored with The Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theatre, presented by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.   

“It is our way of thanking you for your noteworthy contribution to theater in Los Angeles,” commented Jonas Schwartz, LADCC Vice President in an email to the Fountain Theatre. “We really are so pleased to be able to recognize your work.”

Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, and in keeping with the request of state and local officials, the LADCC has been forced to forgo its annual Awards event for the public in April.  Instead, the winners will be posted on the LADCC website.

“This honor from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle means a great deal to all of us at the Fountain Theatre,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It is much-needed good news in the midst of this current crisis.”

Founded in 1969, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) is an organization dedicated to excellence in theatrical criticism and to the encouragement and improvement of theatre in the Greater Los Angeles Area. The LADCC presents the annual Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards.

Full list of LADCC Award nominees and Special Award winners.

Stay Home: Fountain Theatre builds community alliances during time of crisis

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Hollywood Food Coalition

by France-Luce Benson

As we all hunker down, I’ve been thinking a lot about home. As a playwright/performer, I’ve lived a kind of gypsy lifestyle for most of my adulthood. Home is wherever the gig happens to be.  For the last year and a half, home is Los Angeles.  Of course, in Los Angeles, I can’t think about home without thinking of the millions of men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness today. As our public officials urge us all to “stay home”, rightfully so, I can’t help but wonder what that means for those who don’t have a home.

Like many theatres across the country, The Fountain made the painful decision to suspend performances of Human Interest Story, which grappled with several issues around homelessness. Sadly, this also meant cancelling all of our BID events, including a panel discussion with representatives from several homeless relief organizations in our community.

Although the show cannot go on, we’ve decided to keep the conversation going with one of our esteemed panelists, John Billingsley. As the Board President of Hollywood Food Coalition, Billingsley knows firsthand about what it means to be on the front lines of the fight to end homelessness in L.A.

FLB: First, can you please tell us about Hollywood Food Coalition’s mission and what services you provide:

Billingsley: Every night of the year we serve the most immediate needs of people in our community: we provide a healthy and nutritious five course meal to all comers, no questions asked (soup, salad, choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian entree, fruit, bread, desserts, milk, water).  We also distribute shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, bus passes, laundry vouchers, toiletry kits, and etc. We  have medical, dental and vision vans from UCLA visiting our campus on a regular basis. We are secular, but we serve our meal on the campus of the Salvation Army, (in one of their two dining halls) and we also help clients access way cool stuff provided by other community social service organizations (our neighbors and buds).  Additionally, insofar as we rescue approximately 7000 pounds of food a week, we aim to distribute the food we cannot use to other Not For Profits serving our community.

FLB: What led you to Hollywood Food Coalition?

Billingsley: Approximately 4 years ago, apres the disastrous 2016 election, I was looking for ways to get more involved in my community. In addition to doing some political fundraising, I started making bad fruit salads at the Hollywood Food Coalition. (I washed dishes badly, as well). I was foolish enough to shoot off my mouth a bit about ways to grow the board, raise more moolah, blah blah blah . . .  and now I’m the Board President!  It (almost) reaffirms my faith in America. Or, perversely, makes me question the sanity of our Executive Director, Sherry Bonanno.

FLB: What has been your focus as Board President?

Billingsley: We believe food is a medium for coalition building.  My specific interest revolves around what it means to build coalitions, to make pals, to get to know our non-for-profit neighbors. We’re interested in helping to bring NFP’s in our community together to collaborate, where possible, on ‘common actions’, like we’re doing with The Fountain Theatre. We’re interested in exploring mechanisms by which we can further each other’s missions: Can we help you do what you do better? Can you help us do what we do better? How?

FLB: In Stephen Sachs’ play, Human Interest Story, the Jane Doe character offers a raw look at the realities of homelessness. She talks about being assaulted, feeling invisible, and the stigma attached to homelessness. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge homeless men and women face?

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Tanya Alexander and Rob Nagle, Human Interest Story.

Billingsley: First off, and apropos of nothing – ‘people who re experiencing homelessness’ is a more artful construction, I have been taught  – when we use the term ‘homeless’, and God knows we all use it, we kinda consign people to a bit of a Dante-esque ‘circle’, a ‘home’, oddly enough . . .

 People go through shit.

One can say: I am going through this time in my life, I am experiencing yada yada yada . . . it’s subtly, but legitimately, different than saying: I am a this.  I am a that.  People ain’t homeless.  They’re living a particular kind of life, they’re experiencing homelessness at this time in their life .  One hopes that they will be living a different kind of life soon.

But to answer your question:

The biggest challenge homeless people face is the biggest challenge most of us face: the folks who rule our country, and many other countries around the world, actively attempt to delegitimize, if not actively dehumanize, people who don’t agree with them, or look like them, or in any way challenge their values or their hold on power. The challenge we all face, or can’t even begin to face (or intellectually recognize) is a deep and internalized acquiescence in the face of systemic and organized political disenfranchisement; perhaps to the perpetuation of our own diminution.   Continue reading

VIDEO: What is actor Rob Nagle’s favorite line from ‘Human Interest Story’?

France-Luce Benson wants you to stay engaged

France-Luce Benson brings people together. As our Community Engagement Coordinator, she connects folks with the Fountain, and groups with each other. How can we stay engaged from our homes?
“Social distance” doesn’t mean social media distance.
Let’s stay connected on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube. We will soon be sharing with you new ways we can stay engaged as we walk through this period together.
We want to hear from you. You can email France-Luce at franceluce@fountaintheatre.com

To our Fountain Family: We are in this together

Fountain Theatre Blog

Mayor Garcetti has issued an order calling for “the postponement or cancellation of all non-essential public community events or group activities with 50 or more participants, or that require close contact between vulnerable individuals.” As you know, close contact is what we’re about at the Fountain. “Social distance” is not who we are.

Therefore, we are heartbroken to report that our acclaimed world premiere production of Human Interest Story has been suspended. We join our brothers and sisters in the LA Theatre Community, in venues large and small, as we take action to slow the spread of this virus.

In addition, we will delay the opening of our Los Angeles Premiere of If I Forget to a later date, to be determined. And our Forever Flamenco concert on March 29 has been canceled.

Are you a ticket buyer to Human Interest Story or Forever Flamenco? To help get us through this devastating period, we ask that you donate your ticket purchase to the Fountain. Not possible? No problem. We’ll gladly refund it. Please contact our box office at (323) 663-1525 or email us at boxoffice@fountaintheatre.com.

These are uncertain times for all of us. The world, our country, our city, and the Fountain Theatre are in a very serious crisis. No one knows how long this pandemic will last and, once it is over, what the long-term social and economic ramifications will be.

We will get through this together. This pandemic is like a bomb dropping on our LA Theatre community. The damage it does will be significant, and we may not recognize the landscape once the smoke clears, but we will pick ourselves up after the blast and march forward together.

Onward,

The Fountain Theatre

VIDEO: Fountain Theatre delivers donated clothes to Covenant House

Fountain Theatre announces cast and creative team for L.A. premiere ‘If I Forget’

Cast FORGET

Top: Jenna Macari, Shelly Kurtz, Roy Abramsohn. Bottom: Jonathan Fishman, Samantha Klein, Jacob Zelonky, Laura Faye Smith.

The Fountain Theatre is thrilled to announce the complete cast of the Los Angeles Premiere of  Steven Levenson’s (Dear Evan Hansen) new play, If I Forget, directed by Simon Levy. The cast includes Shelly Kurtz (Lou Fischer), Jenna Macari (Holly Fischer), Roy Abramsohn (Michael Fischer), Samantha Klein (Sharon Fischer), Laura Faye Smith (Ellen Manning), Jonathan Fishman (Howard Kilberg), Jacob Zelonky (Joey Oren).

If I Forget begins preview performances on April 22, 2020 and opens officially on April 25, 2020. This is a limited engagement through June 14, 2020.

A funny and powerful tale of a family and a culture at odds with itself. In the final months before 9/11, liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer reunites with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday. Each committed to their own version of family history, they clash over everything from Michael’s controversial book, to whether they should sell the family business. Secrets and long-held resentments bubble to the surface as the three negotiate – with biting humor and razor-sharp insight – just what they’re willing to sacrifice for a chance at a new beginning.

The creative team of If I Forget includes Andy Hammer (Set design), Jennifer Edwards (Lighting Design), Jeff Gardner (Sound Design), Michael Allen Angel (Prop Design) and Shon LeBlanc (Costume Design).

More Info/Get Tickets

Inspired by viral post on ‘Mockingbird’, Fountain Theatre launches Free Student Fridays

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Students can now see a Friday night play free at the Fountain.

When Artistic Director Stephen Sachs shared his thoughts on the Fountain Theatre blog last Friday, he never dreamed his post would go viral.  It did, big time. His observations on the free performance of Broadway’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden for 18,000 high school students drew 65,975 views to the Fountain blog and was shared by more than 39,000 people on Facebook, sweeping the globe in 111 countries.

Central to the Fountain is the impact the post had on one person: Sachs himself.

“I am blown away by the post’s popularity,” he says.

For Sachs, reading the avalanche of online comments the post triggered as it was shared around the world was overwhelming and eye-opening. “For me, the post became more than a feel-good story about young people experiencing live theatre.  For me, it is a call to action.”

What action is the Fountain taking?

Starting this weekend with the current production of Human Interest Story, the Fountain Theatre launches a new program called Free Student Fridays. Any high school or college student may see a play at the Fountain on Friday for free.  To reserve online, students use the promo code FreeStudent. A valid school ID card must be shown at the box office window on the night of the performance. Seats are subject to availability.

“This program is a modest start, but it’s a start,” admits Sachs. “We may not have 18,000 seats like Madison Square Garden, but if we can inspire the young minds and open the young hearts of 80 students on Fountain Avenue every Friday night, we’ll have humbly done our part to help make the world a better place.”

Who knows? A free performance for 20,000 students at L.A.’s Staples Center may one day be on the horizon. Until then? There’s a seat for any student at the Fountain.

Click this link to book tickets for a Free Student Friday. Info on Human Interest Story.

How 18,000 students proved theater experts wrong

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Students prepare to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden.

by Stephen Sachs

There hasn’t been that much rapturous cheering in Madison Square Garden since the Knicks won their last championship in 1973. But the thunderous hollering heard this Wednesday at the sold-out arena was not for a basketball game. It was for a play.

On Wednesday, 18,000 middle and high school students from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island attended a free one-time special performance of the Broadway production of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden arranged by producer Scott Rudin, the MSG organization and the city of New York.  That’s right. 18,000 kids sat and watched a 3-hour drama in the cavernous home of the Knicks. Who would have thought it possible?

The result? By all accounts, everyone there on that school-day afternoon – actors, audience, organizers – have been forever changed by the experience. And, I hope, so has our field, as the impact of this one-time event ripples nationwide for years.

Artistic Directors like me have been wringing our hands over the same question for decades. How do we get younger audiences to come to our theatre? How do we engage young people today in our ancient art form? How do we not only hold their attention but excite them enough to want to come back to our theatre?

This week, one answer came. And it showed me that maybe we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong question. Sometimes we must bring the mountain to Muhammed.

The play’s usual Broadway home is the Shubert Theatre, where it commands an average ticket price of $162. The one-time performance at The Garden was free. For many kids, they were seeing a professional play – in an unusual setting — for the first time.

“This is a one-of-a-kind event — 18,000 young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to see a Broadway play are going to be introduced to American theater,” playwright Aaron Sorkin said.

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The cast of To Kill a Mockingbird take their bows on stage after a special performance for students at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In a week of nothing but bad news for our country, this gives me hope. And shatters a few myths theater-makers may hold about young people.

The attention span of teens is too short. The myth we keep telling ourselves is that the light-speed tempo of video games have accelerated the viewing habits of young people to such a degree that they’ll never sit still for a serious play. A musical, maybe. A rock musical, certainly. Not an issue-driven drama. But the 18,000 students at Madison Square Garden not only sat still and listened to “Mockingbird”, they were riveted in their seats.

Young people are only interested in contemporary stories about themselves. It’s okay to offer them hip hop plays, urban musicals, modern teen comedies about their world today. A drama from another time period? Too risky. This week, however, a multitude of students from New York were engrossed by a fable that takes place in 1934 Alabama. Want to make it worse? It’s a play adapted from a book they are assigned to study as homework in class, for crying out loud. A theatre producer’s nightmare, right? Wrong.

Young people hate theatre. Not true. They just have fewer opportunities to see it. And when they do? “It’s so exciting,” said high school junior Michelle Hernandez. “It’s amazing,” said student Justine Jackson. “The story is very real and you can relate it to modern society,” said junior Andy Lin. “Specially racism because it’s still going on.”  The 18,000 students were clearly swept up in the play and the excitement of the event. The setting of Madison Square Garden seemed to set them free to react openly in ways they would never dare in a conventional theatre. They laughed, they gasped, they shouted, and they cried. They cheered Atticus Finch like he was a rock star.

Regional theaters across the country have educational outreach programs that include bringing their productions of plays to schools for students to enjoy and benefit by seeing. It’s a failsafe strategy that is not going anywhere. A theatre importing its production to a school campus is one thing. Partnering with Madison Square Garden is another.

The conventional model of bussing students to your theatre holds its own many benefits. But I hope the “Mockingbird” event inspires theater organizations across the country to think outside the box in their own community. To explore unconventional venues and unique partnerships to help bring the power of theater to young people nationwide.

Could the “Mockingbird” event happen in Los Angeles? Can we imagine 20,000 students from across the Southland coming to Staples Center to watch a performance of “Death of A Salesman”? Why not? It takes a mayor, a theatre producer and a city believing that it’s important and willing to make it happen. As NY Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The only way to change your world is if you decide it is your world to change.”

 And you must find like-minded partners who are willing to change it.

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.